Telomeric repeats in fungi of the subphylum Saccharomycotina exhibit great inter- and intra-species variability in length and sequence. Such variations challenged telomeric DNA-binding proteins that co-evolved to maintain their functions at telomeres. Here, we compare the extent of co-variations in telomeric repeats, encoded in the telomerase RNAs (TERs), and the repeat-binding proteins from 13 species belonging to the Yarrowia clade. We identified putative TER loci, analyzed their sequence and secondary structure conservation, and predicted functional elements. Moreover, in vivo complementation assays with mutant TERs showed the functional importance of four novel TER substructures. The TER-derived telomeric repeat unit of all species, except for one, is 10 bp long and can be represented as 5′-TTNNNNAGGG-3′, with repeat sequence variations occuring primarily outside the vertebrate telomeric motif 5′-TTAGGG-3′. All species possess a homologue of the Yarrowia lipolytica Tay1 protein, YlTay1p. In vitro, YlTay1p displays comparable DNA-binding affinity to all repeat variants, suggesting a conserved role among these species. Taken together, these results add significant insights into the co-evolution of TERs, telomeric repeats and telomere-binding proteins in yeasts.
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© 2019, The Author(s).